During the second shift of the night, Tom Kostopoulos, Montreal's third-line grinder, tried to make a statement.
Kostopoulos saw Zdeno Chara along the wall, whirred up his legs, and charged at the Bruins captain.
An instant later, it was Kostopoulos who was dragging himself up off the ice, knocked flat on his back. The Boston strongman had seen the hit coming, braced himself, and dropped Kostopoulos.
The message was clear: not in our house.
"There was no doubt that he set the tone tonight," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Physically, with the amount of ice time he had, he handled it well. I thought he was strong in all situations."
To start the match, the Canadiens played Boston-style hockey - chipping pucks in, cycling down low, and playing a straight-line game usually seen from the guys wearing black and gold.
But with Chara and Tim Thomas standing tall, the Bruins withstood Montreal's pressure, tucked three pucks behind Jaroslav Halak, and stamped an exclamation point on the latest installment of the NHL's most flammable rivalry, literally fighting their way to a 3-1 win before 17,565 raucous fans at TD Banknorth Garden last night.
"When the crowd gets into it like that and the two teams play with that much energy," said Thomas, "it felt a lot more like the playoffs last year."
In the first period, Mark Stuart and Kyle Chipchura threw down for a spirited bout in front of the Montreal bench. In the second period, after Andrei Kostitsyn ran Aaron Ward from behind (five-minute boarding major), Thomas burst out of his crease and gave the Montreal forward a mouthful of glove and stick (roughing minor).
And seemingly all night, Montreal widebody Mike Komisarek (game-high 11 hits) was belting Bruins and getting in their faces, free to play his in-your-face game with Milan Lucic, his usual nemesis, watching from the press box.
Just standard operating procedure when you have Boston vs. Montreal.
"I heard the hit and I saw Wardo down," Thomas said. "The first thing that went through my mind was [Patrice] Bergeron and Andrew Alberts last year.
"Having seen the replay now, it was nowhere near as bad of a hit. But I didn't know that at the time. You just react when you see man down. It's instinct."
In the second period, Kostitsyn netted a power-play goal at 3:24 for the game's opening score. But the Bruins stormed back, thanks to the goal-happy stick of Chara.
After Patrice Brisebois went off for the slightest of hooks, the Bruins tied the game with their own power-play goal. Chuck Kobasew rooted himself in the slot, drawing the attention of Komisarek. Then Ward got the puck and one-timed a shot that never got through Kobasew's screen. Kobasew gained control and kicked it to Chara, who had been sneaking backdoor, and the captain had an easy tap-in at 8:23.
Later in the second, with Kostitsyn serving his boarding major, Roman Hamrlik was nabbed for cross-checking Martin St. Pierre at 17:01, giving the Bruins a two-minute five-on-three power play. The Montreal penalty killers (Komisarek and partner Andrei Markov were on the ice the entire time) closed down the slot and forced the Bruins to take perimeter shots.
And even on the go-ahead goal, the Canadiens were positioned correctly. Chara, taking a feed from Dennis Wideman, hammered a one-timer from the right point that Markov blocked with his stick. But the puck kept going forward, changed direction, and fluttered past Halak (26 saves) to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead, Chara's second goal.
"Finally, we got a little opening and a little luck, too," said Chara. "But eventually, I think we would have gotten it done."
It took a shutdown effort to keep the Canadiens from tying the match. Late in the second, Chara busted up a partial breakaway by Maxim Lapierre by poking the puck away.
"He was outstanding tonight," Julien said. "I can't say enough about his performance."
It also required Thomas (34 saves) to make the stop of the night late in the third. Kostitsyn, handling the puck deep in the right corner, had help - linemate Robert Lang driving the middle and Markov sprinting to the far post. Kostitsyn whipped a cross-crease pass for Markov that had Thomas beaten, even though he scrambled toward the defenseman to stop his shot. Markov's shot never came, as Kostitsyn's pass was blocked in front.
"It would have been an even more difficult save," said Thomas of a Markov attempt. "It would have had to have been a stick save or a blocker. There was [Lang] cutting down the middle. I was taking away the first guy in the middle. I wasn't expecting a third guy backdoor."
But Thomas's work wasn't done. As soon as he had rolled to the right to play Markov, he had to blast twice off his right skate to reposition himself for Kostitsyn's follow-up. With a stretch of his glove, Thomas snared Kostitsyn's shot at 17:44.
Just over a minute later, David Krejci scored an insurance goal.
"He made some outstanding saves at key times," said Julien. "He was at the top of his game. We needed that type of performance from him tonight. It was a win and he gave it to us."